Le Temps is the French part of Switzerland’s newspaper of record, and one of the newspapers I read daily. I am a huge fan of their literature section, I have acquaintances who work there, and (full disclosure) I have even had the honor of being citied in that paper. So in other words, I usually enjoy Le Temps’ news coverage.
One of the things that has been bothering me lately, which has also been a running theme in my recent MMW posts, is the way Swiss media and politics has been sliding down the slippery slope of taking its cues from France, and jumping on the headscarf hate bandwagon. More troubling is the lack of nuance- no one is really saying anything new or thoughtful.
I don’t understand why everyone has to have an opinion about a headscarf these days (or niqab…or women’s clothing in general), and everyone’s opinion seems to be welcome except for those concerned: Muslim women and their clothing choices.
On April 2nd, the journalist Mireille Vallette published an op-ed with the title “Le niqab au Tessin: nos valeurs passent avant le tourisme” where she is ostensibly coming out in support of the not so recent niqab ban in the canton of Ticino (see, I told you Switzerland was just trying to be like France) but really just having a dig at Islam, because, well Islam. To spare you from reading the hatefulness, her op-ed basically reads like a parody of one of Caroline Fourest’s wet dreams, and just repeats tired old tropes about how teh Islamz is archaic, how Switzerland shouldn’t submit to the doctrine of tourism petrodollars and appease Muslims (because all Muslims are the same), blah blah so-called feminism… Really? We haven’t heard this before? Does it bring anything new to the table? The Ticino burka ban was “only” voted 18 months ago so why is she being given a microphone now? While I am sure Ms. Vallette may be a capable and competent journalist in other areas, her op-ed isn’t high journalism at all, and definitely not at the level of Le Temps’ normal coverage. I mean, if you are going to go the “Islam Sucks and Muslims Suck” route why not go after the big money and get Ayaan Hirsi Ali to say the same stuff?
So I originally didn’t get that mad at Ms. Vallette’s article when it appeared- I mean, it was like second-rate AHA and it wasn’t anything new either in topic or in form. What really bothered me was the rebuttal after having chosen to publish that type of “opinion” in the first place. While this is my own personal bias showing, what I really would have liked to see would have been a rebuttal from a woman in Switzerland with a niqab. Or even a headscarf. Or even a just a Muslim woman. Or even not to have seen such a hateful, trite op-ed be posted at all to warrant a rebuttal. Instead, Mr. Pascal Gemperli, who is a perfectly fine scholar, Swiss Muslim and so on, wrote his rebuttal on April 13th, aptly titled, “Arrêtons de stigmatiser les musulmanes voilées en Suisse!”
It was a great article, an efficient point-by-point takedown of Ms. Vallette’s article, and I can’t say anything about the points made by Mr. Gemperli or their pertinence. I even snickered when he asked, in essence, “Ok, if you want people to follow Swiss values (my note: instead of the big bad monolithic “Islam” values caricatured by Ms. Vallette), which region’s Swiss values should be followed?”
I’m more upset about the posture Mr. Gemperli chose to take- why are we stooping to mere rebuttals of what is basically bigotry, ignorance and hate? Where is the nuance? And, yet again, why are we talking ABOUT women in headscarves instead of talking TO them? The real question and the real rebuttal of Ms. Vallette’s op- ed is “Why is it 2015 and we are still writing about this, like this?” Is this the way Muslim dialogue is going to be, always on the defensive? In fact, Le Temps did a lovely piece on Mr. Gemperli himself earlier this year. Why don’t I see more of that in the media? Why couldn’t we have let Ms. Vallette’s hateful little missive die in tabloid exile?
The saving grace, and something more in line with Le Temps’ normal high level of coverage, was an article on the 14th of April by Mondher Kilani entitled “Qu’est-ce que cela veut dire au fond, d’être musulman?”The perfect kind of nuanced, intellectual but still accessible copy that Le Temps does so well. If I am going to read about Islam in the mainstream media, Professor Khilani’s article is the kind of stuff I want to read. Thank you, Le Temps, for renewing my faith in your editorial policies.
Other than the Khilani article, I’m frustrated with the recent “Muslim” coverage in Le Temps because, as I said earlier, this is a good newspaper, nay a really good newspaper, which just happened to post an op-ed by a woman worthy of the Daily Mail. And this isn’t a dig at the paper or its platform as a whole. I just find it curious that the most recent op-eds about Muslim women and Islam are by a) a woman who appears to hate Islam for all intents and purposes; b) a dude who should not have even wasted his breath on responding to something like that. All this talk about headscarves, all this noise about Islam for nothing if only to repeat old tropes, and in two articles no one asked an actual woman in a headscarf or a niqab what she thinks. No, it is easier to talk about Muslim women than to actually give them their own tribune. If this is what good newspapers are writing about Muslims these days, we have a long way to go.